Republicans Soil Reputation with Next Generation of Voters
Maine GOP sets an example, albeit a poor one, for middle school students.
In the realm of you can’t make this stuff up, students in the King Middle School “Four Freedoms” learning expedition recently received a concrete lesson in free speech courtesy of the GOP. The school served as a private meeting space for members of the Republican Party while the large-scale convention was held May 7th at the Portland Expo.
It seems when Paul Clifford, an eighth-grade social studies teacher, returned to his classroom the Monday after the convention he found that a poster celebrating the labor movement had been removed from his wall and replaced with a Republican sticker. According to news sources, the poster offered this quote from union leader Eugine Debs: “Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.”
Upon returning to school that morning, Clifford found his labor movement poster had disappeared, replaced by a large sticker with the following inscription: ‘Workers Vote Republican.’ In addition, the teacher found a note on his desk that offered these words: ‘A Republican was here. What gives you the right to propagandize impressionable kids?’
Response to Student Collages?
Clifford told reporters that the note appeared to be a reaction to several student-made collages that were displayed in the classroom. However, it seems that the group had not only left their mark on his classroom, they also had called school officials to complain about student collages posted about the room as well as copies of the U.S. Constitution they found in his classroom.
Since our constitution theoretically represents the fundamental guiding document for all government operations, one has to wonder how convention goers could find fault with such documents being present in an eighth grade social studies classroom. But then, the documents had been donated by the American Civil Liberties Union, and apparently to make matters worse in the eyes of the Republicans using the classroom, they also featured a “know your rights” section.
But while the poster and collages were in plain site, the copies of the constitution were actually stored in a closed box on the floor. When discussing the behavior of the Republicans, Clifford pulled no punches with Randy Billings at The Forecaster.
“We allowed someone to use our building,” Clifford offered noting that other teachers also reported problems with litter and stray fliers. “They came in and searched our stuff. Stole a poster. Left our building trashed. And then called us to complain about what they found when they searched our house.”
The Portland School Department has indicated that it would not seek criminal charges against the group of Republicans though going through and removing school materials clearly crosses a behavioral line that educators would not tolerate. And though Superintendent James Morse indicated the actions of the delegates set a bad example for students, he was not interested in pursuing the issue further.
“For me to file a criminal complaint against them to me seems like I would be sucked into the political game and it’s not a game I want to play,” Morse told Billings. “I think it (would be) a waste of precious taxpayer’s money to push an issue because a group of grown-ups behaved badly.”
School Committee member Sarah Thompson was a little stronger in her outrage, indicating any damage done to facilities (we would assume that would include clean up costs) should be the responsibility of those who used the school.
“I think there should be repercussions,” she said. She further noted that if the weekend incident involved students, they would likely have been punished.
Giving some hope, Christie-Lee McNally, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, issued an apology on the party website. “The Maine Republican Party does not condone the destruction of property,” she stated nor does it encourage the lack of tolerance that these people demonstrated.”
But while the head of the party seemed chagrined, it seems some Republicans did not agree that an apology was necessary. Aroostook County Republican Jim Cyr noted that his group met in a different classroom in the school. There they found disturbing material including a bumper sticker on a classroom wall that said: “Do something nice for the environment. Uproot a Bush in 2004.”
Cyr went on to blame the media coverage for failing to provide a balanced assessment of the issues. Instead of concentrating on the removal of the poster, Cyr thought the media should focus on the larger story that children are “being used as pawns in an indoctrination war.”
A Teachable Moment
In response, Portland High School senior Simon Thompson, a student representative on the School Committee a year ago, penned a letter to the Maine GOP.
“I am not brainwashed, I am not a puppet, I am not anti-American or anti-religious,” notes the King graduate. “Paul Clifford’s class taught me to think critically, to deductively reason and, if anything, to appreciate America for all the freedoms with which I am ensured on a daily basis.”
Meanwhile, as all good teachers would, Clifford’s ultimate response was to use the incident as a teachable moment for students. He informed students that when some people believe in their own ideas so strongly they sometimes forget others have a right to their own point of view.
“This is not an opportunity to trash somebody,” he summarized. “We know this is not something that would be condoned by the Republican Party. This type of stuff happens on both sides of the party line.”
Amidst the political rancor engulfing our country, Clifford’s balance is most welcome. He even publicly noted his initial bemusement with the ‘Workers Vote Republican’ bumper sticker.
As one looks at the incident independently, it seems that the teacher asked to educate the next generation of voters is doing just what is expected of him: teaching students the importance of intelligent discontent. Too bad convention attendees have not had access to such lessons.